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Sunday, May 30, 2010

End of the month potpourri (Special Memorial Day Weekend edition)

In the midst of enjoying a fairly relaxing, stay-at-home Memorial Day weekend.

As usual, I'm feeling guilty that I have been so negligent with this blog that I'm trying to make amends by throwing something together at the end of the month.

I continue to be depressed with the BP oil "spill" (which, let's face it, is more like an oil "geyser"). Is it just me, or the do the folks at BP come across as the most incompetent corporate boobs in history. I haven't decided if they're more reprehensible that the Enron people, but they definitely seem to have their head further up their a$$es. But that's just one man's opinion.

I'm currently reading an excellent book called The Liberators: America's Witness to the Holocaust by Michael Hirsch. It never ceases to amaze me that, no matter how much I read about the Holocaust, I'm continually amazed at the sheer level of the atrocities committed by the Germans against their enemies, be they Jews, gypsies, or any of their long list of "undesirables." The book is told from the point of view of surviving American GIs who helped liberate these concentration camps and death camps, and they had no idea of the horrors they'd find there. I'm still only about a quarter of the way through this book, but I highly recommend it. It's pretty sobering to be reminded man's capacity for brutality.

I'm picking this back up on Memorial Day, and the three day weekend has sort of run its course. Up until a few minutes ago, the kids were getting ansy and I was feeling ready to get back to the relative peace and quiet of work--scary thought, eh? It seems as though now, however, the kids are back playing outside with the the neighborhood kids, despite the fact that rain is coming down. This brief period of calm has allowed me to write.

Figuring we'd better do something that the normal American does on a three-day holiday weekend, we took the kids to the movies yesterday. Saw Shrek Forever After, and was pleasantly suprised at how much I enjoyed it. I'd read one review that was less than complimentary, but I thought it was good. I've always enjoyed how the Shrek movies play with the old fairy tales, and get a kick out of the pop culture references sprinkled throughout. This movie has fun with the idea that Shrek has become a bored, domesticated husband and father and misses his youthful, carefree days as the dreaded, frightening ogre. Predictably, there is a "careful what you wish for" twist to the plot, but I don't think anyone watches a Shrek movie for storytelling originality. If you're a fan of the first three Shrek films, you'll enjoy this one.

I'm reduced to commentary about kids' movies because I so rarely see "grown-up movies" in the theater anymore.

Well, my quiet idyll has ended, so I'm gonna wrap it up and post this.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ernie Harwell

The great Detroit Tiger radio broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, died yesterday at the age of 92.

It was the news I knew was inevitable, since he had been diagnosed with inoperable bile duct cancer, but was dreading all the same. I knew it would be hard to take. If anyone seemed like he should live forever, it was Ernie. It doesn't seem fair that someone as gentlemanly and decent as Ernie Harwell should be taken away from us.

Like generations of Michiganians, I grew up with Ernie's voice. He was one of the people that introduced me to baseball and the Detroit Tigers. He was part of my childhood and young adulthood. There are so many memories I have that are tied to that distinctive Southern accent: my dad outside working on the house or in the yard with his old paint-splattered transistor radio, and Ernie describing the action at Michigan and Trumbull; upstairs in my room on a warm summer night in the great year of 1984, the sound of crickets outside, a breeze pushing up the blinds through the screened window, and Ernie and his partner Paul Carey relaying the Tigers action.

Mine was probably the last generation to remember when not every single Tiger baseball game was broadcast on television. In fact, I'd guess that until the early '90s, weekend games (with an occasional weeknight game) were the only times the Tigers were on TV. The rest of the time, we fans had to rely on "The Great Voice of the Great Lakes," WJR, for Tiger baseball. For most Tiger fans over the age of 35, the majority of our Tiger memories involve the voice of Ernie.

It's probably difficult for anyone not from this area, or unfamiliar with the Tigers, to fully appreciate our love for Ernie. He just seemed like an extra grandfather. There was just something so reassuring and decent about the man that went way beyond baseball broadcasting.

I was fortunate enough to meet and talk, albeit briefly, with Ernie Harwell twice. In 1989. he was a guest on WKAR radio's Sports Talk show, and I called in to ask Ernie about the 1961 Tigers team that won 101 games but finished second in the American League behind the Yankees. (One of the best teams ever to NOT win a pennant). At the time, I was researching that team hoping to write an article or book (which, alas, has yet to materialize). Ernie gave me a short but succinct synopsis on the '61 Tigers. Two years later, I was working at Schuler Books in Okemos and we had Ernie do a signing for his latest book, Diamond Gems. As the event was winding down and all the customers had left, I had the opportunity (along with my co-worker and fellow Tiger fan Ward K.) to go up to Ernie, chat, and have some books signed. Honestly, I don't remember anything I said to Ernie, it was probably just nervous platitudes, but he was everything you've ever heard about him--a true gentleman.

I don't think we'll ever see or hear another sports broadcaster the likes of Ernie again. He was considered by some philistines to be "old fashioned" because, with Ernie, it was always about the game, not about himself. He wasn't a self-promoting wind bag like so may modern sports broadcasters. Sure, Ernie could tell a good sports story as well as anyone, and he had a veritable encyclopedia full of wonderful yarns, but he always saw his primary job as describing, as succinctly as possible, the action on the field. His long pauses were part of his style. He wanted the listener to feel like he or she was actually at the game, so the crowd noise and other miscellaneous sounds of the ballpark was part of the broadcast.

Ernie was an intensely spiritual, religious man, but was never the slightest bit preachy. His spirituality, I'm sure, is what helped him face his mortality with such serenity and strength. Ernie was also quite possibly the most literate man to ever work in a baseball broadcast booth. Who else would even think to quote the "Song of Solomon" on each and every baseball opening day.

If there is a heaven, surely Ernie Harwell is there. I'm sure that Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, and a host of other dearly departed ballplayers have been waiting for Ernie to call one of their games. I can hear him say in that wonderfully nasal Southern drawl, "He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by..."

Bless you, Ernie.